Friday, November 06, 2009

Conference Presentations: Some Precautionary Thoughts

1. So SBL is around the corner and I am thinking about my presentation. As has become normal I'll be getting a powerpoint ready (of course preparation should not be confused with last minute tinkering). This opens up the opportunity for a great presentation or for total disaster. So take precautions. Here are some things I think about:

2. Fonts: if you are using your own laptop connected to a data projector then you probably won't have any problems with fonts, but if you have loaded your presentation onto someone else's computer you may have a problem with the recognition of your fonts (I would say this happens on 20% of presentations in biblical studies - it happened during two presentations at the Sinaiticus conference in early July). The key thing in powerpoint is to access the Options (under Tools), click on Save and then on Embed TrueType Fonts. This should do the trick (although the careful presenter will also keep a copy of the fonts you use on your flash drive so that you can load them onto the computer you are using - with permission!). The other key thing is to try the presentation out on the actual hardware that you will be using - and check that the fonts are working.

3. Sequence/animation problems: powerpoint enables various options for progression within a slide and from slide to slide. These can be useful and helpful for presenting, but need to be checked several times, preferably on a large screen, to make sure they work smoothly. In my opinion each presentation should have an overall coherence in terms of general format, transitions, and style of animation. Overly cheesy things should generally be avoided (except maybe once in the middle of a presentation for light relief). These are especially useful for focusing attention on one part of an image (e.g. a feature in a manuscript), and for inserting a magnified photo of the portion.

4. Have various back up options for your presentation. E.g. have a copy on your laptop, email a copy to yourself, and have a copy on a flash disk. You need to be able to cope with the situation when your laptop is broken or stolen, and you have misplaced your flash disk. One cool thing to do would be to share presentations with another person presenting in the same session - email each other a copy the week beforehand and then you have a perfect back-up if your lap-top blows up.

5. Have a back up plan for the presentation if the technology fails. It has never happened to me, but it has happened in my presence, that for whatever reason a carefully prepared presentation fails to project (two years ago at SBL it was because the projector plug had been bent so it could no longer plug into a laptop; on another occasion a presenter simply couldn't get his laptop to connect to the projector). Obviously this can be a bit tricky if you've prepared a primarily visual presentation, but it doesn't really pay to present as normal and yet repeat every couple of minutus, 'if you could see the next slide you would know what I am talking about'. Have a handout ready - people can take it away, it can have the basic text and an outline and your name and email. And take 30 minutes to think about how to present your paper without any technology and only a handout. (It is less stressful if this 30 minutes is not immediately before standing up.)

6. There are lots of other things, but I won't labour them now: have an interesting topic, know what you are talking about, think about how to communicate the interesting topic to normal human beings, skip the boring bits, don't read so fast, and DO NOT RUN OVER TIME!


  1. PH: "preparation" - you mean basic outline?
    PH: "last minute tinkering"- you mean actual content?

  2. Tommy,
    An interesting new lexicon you are working on!

  3. It is difficult if you are still gathering evidence on the plane.

  4. Absolutely, but you have plenty of time on the way to the airport.

  5. In my case that is usually even more of a rush than the rest of the time.

  6. Why am I not more organised?

  7. Delta keeps Greek and Hebrew bibles and lexicons in the back of their planes just for such occasions, when biblical scholars are "still gathering evidence on the plane."